The first six weeks following any natural disaster are marked by intense media coverage, drawing the attention of Americans across the country. It is during this time that charities and organizations are inundated with an overwhelming number of donations. Eager to be part of the solution, each donation is made with the hope of making a difference in the lives of those who are suffering in the wake of devastation.
This was the case in January 2010 when an earthquake struck Haiti, claiming the lives of 200,000 Haitians and leaving another 895,000 homeless. The magnitude 7.0 earthquake was the strongest to hit the area in over 200 years. This, coupled with the fact that Haiti lacked a national building code at the time, resulting in some questionable construction, caused a level of destruction that could not fully be conveyed in the photographs and videos shared by the media.
Well-known organization the American Red Cross began to collect money in the days and weeks that followed the horrific quake. Raising over half a billion dollars, they claimed to provide housing to more than 130,000 Haitians, making a significant impact in the face of disaster. The organization also took on a large project in the country’s capital Port-au-Prince, specifically in the neighborhood of Campeche, a highly populated area which was devastated in the quake.
Unfortunately, in the years that have followed, this claim has been called into question. In fact, the neighborhood in which they claimed to be focusing their efforts still lacks adequate access to clean water, electricity and basic sanitation. Interested in discovering the truth, ProPublica and NPR conducted a joint investigation, assessing the effectiveness of the Red Cross’s efforts in the area. Their discovery was shocking.
The American Red Cross has built a total of six permanent homes!
This isn’t the first time that the organization’s use of funding has been called into question. As Americans become more educated on where they are spending their money, and which organizations are actively upholding their promises, allowing them to make strategic decisions on where to donate. However, despite the overwhelming evidence that they fail to effectively manage and utilize the funding that they are being provided, the American Red Cross continues to be seen as the go-to organization in the face of natural disasters the world over.
In response to the investigation, the Red Cross released a statement to ProPublica: “Like many humanitarian organizations responding in Haiti, the American Red Cross met complications in relations to government coordination delays, disputes over land ownership, delays at Haitian customs, challenges finding qualified staff who were in short supply and high demand, and the cholera outbreak, among other challenges.”
David Meltzer, Chief International Officer of the American Red Cross also took to the internet, hoping to change the opinions of Americans. He wrote: “Housing a relatively small number of people in newly constructed homes that unfortunately could not be quickly built given the uncertainty of clear land title was inconsistent with our mission to quickly and effectively alleviate suffering. In response to these challenges, the American Red Cross chose to focus its housing work on alternatives that offered many more people the opportunity to move into safe and improved housing. We stand by that decision.”
This serves as an important reminder to do your research prior to partnering up with any organization or making any substantial donation. You may discover that they aren’t all that they make themselves out to be.